The Mayor of Montrose

Page 5 of 6

It's 4 p.m., and Mike Kumaus is standing alone behind the bar at Meteor. It's his last night, and the club is dead; he hasn't poured a drink in more than an hour. Kumaus, a dark-eyed, handsome man in an Oscar the Grouch baseball cap, is growing out what he calls his "playoff beard." Until he quits work, he won't shave.

It's probably his last scraggly day, Kumaus thinks. He used to have a lot of regulars. Now, he says, they've all migrated down the street to F Bar, along with much of the Meteor staff.

Since the opening of F Bar, every Armstrong bar has dropped in sales, according to TABC liquor tax records. But none has been hit harder than Meteor, F Bar's neighbor and direct competition. TABC numbers released at the end of January show that Meteor paid $12,578 in liquor taxes, placing it among the top five most profitable gay bars in Houston. The most recent records, released at the end of April after the opening of F Bar, show that business has dropped almost by half, to $6,742.

F Bar isn't entirely to blame — or credit, depending on who you ask — for Armstrong's wounded sales. As more gay people move to the Heights and the suburbs, the gay scene is decentralizing, says Hill. He estimated that the gay population of Montrose is now less than 8 percent. Fewer and fewer gay people are coming into Montrose to party. "Gay bars used to be places where we had to go to get refuge because we were not welcome anywhere else," he says. "Well, guess what? There's nowhere we're not welcome anymore."

A man strolls into Meteor and takes a seat at the bar. It's Kumaus's attorney and friend, Phillip Slaughter. "Been meaning to talk to you," Kumaus says with a smile. "Not gonna work here anymore."

"Where you going?" Slaughter asks.

"Probably down the street," Kumaus says. Tonight's the night. "I'm going to walk over there and say, 'Let's fill out a new-hire packet.'"

"Nice, because I'll probably be over there," Slaughter says, laughing. "I just stopped in to say hey."

They both know that if Kumaus quits, it will be his last night inside an Armstrong establishment. At the moment, neither seems to care much. "You can only ban people for life for so long until no one is allowed to come to your damn bar," Slaughter says.

Not long ago, Kumaus was on the other side of the bar as a manager. His demotion, he was told, was due to lack of ability to follow instructions. Back in December, Kumaus told his bartenders not to hand in any more spill sheets. "I questioned the legality of that," he says. A few months later, around the time the spill sheets were tallied, Kumaus says he was demoted to bartender.

Kumaus says Armstrong is struggling to regain customers. Armstrong runs a shuttle from South Beach to Meteor on the weekends, carrying partygoers from one Armstrong club to another. It used to be free. But once F Bar opened, people began hopping the shuttle and walking to F Bar. Armstrong began charging $3 to ride the shuttle, in exchange for a coupon you could redeem for $3 off a drink at Meteor. Now, Kumaus says F Bar is honoring the coupons.

Kumaus pulls out his phone to log into his Meteor e-mail account. His eyebrows shoot up. "It failed," Kumaus says, surprised. News of defection spreads fast here.

Later that night after Kumaus closes the club, he appears at F Bar. Hands in pockets, his eyes glaze over. Kumaus knows he'll never set foot inside Meteor again. "I tried, I really did," he says. "I worked with the most integrity I could, and all it got me was here."

Three limp, sagging palm trees herald the entrance of South Beach, the clubbiest of Armstrong's bars. The palms also mark the pickup spot for the Meteor shuttle. Close to midnight on a Saturday, a group of about ten men waits in line for the shuttle, which arrives about every 15 minutes. There's no line to get in the club.

Inside, South Beach is dressed to party. A mirror ball, so enormous that Armstrong had to carve out a double-door to get it into the building years ago, glitters over the club. Rows of neon laser lights flash across the faces of patrons. Ice jets suspended from the ceiling shoot a thick mist onto the dance floor, providing the perfect opportunity to get away from an unsavory dance partner. But tonight, there's hardly anybody to get away from.

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander